Great Book on Infrastructure — Jo Guldi’s "Roads to Power: Britain Invents the Infrastructure State"

I don’t know how this book was not on my “to read” list until now, but it is a fabously written book: Jo Guldi’s Roads to Power: Britain Invents the Infrastructure State.


Guldi does a first-rate STS analysis; this primarily historical work is peppered with sociological and political insights, none more important, to my mind, than the idea that large-scale infrastructural investments cause conflict (it seems no matter what) and have the potential to transform a nation (ironically, from within). As it happens, Britain was the first nation to be united by (albeit primitive) highways connecting nearly every town and village. For those of us in love with blueprint images, the book has a couple that I would like to have full-sized, framed, and mounted on my office wall. One of the take-aways from this historical analysis is a fresh look at the now old insight that we are growing increasingly isolated, and that one of the core causes is technological in nature. Instead of focusing on cellular phones or social networking media, the book draws our attention to roads, specifically, how roads bring us together on the roads but utlimately isolate us from the people we are now in contact with more often. Still, perhaps the author could have said something more about the role of signs and the innumeration of places. However, the section devoted to how Britain was even colonizing its own people, through the elaboration of roads at home, rings an appropriate bell for scholars that like a little humor in their science.

NOTE: Joanna Guldi is Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Digital History, University of Chicago, and a Junior Fellow at the Society of Fellows, Harvard University. She also runs the Landscape Studies Podcast.